I groaned and Stella laughed softly.
After hugs, the wiping away of tears, and congratulations went around, we all headed outside. Families gathered together, pictures being taken. You could feel the excitement in the air, but I was pretty fucking sure no one was as excited as I was because no one had Stella by their side but me.
“I want to get a picture of the two of you,” Stella’s mom said.
I took Stella’s hand and led her over to the fountain in front of the entrance of the high school.
The sound of water trickling into the small pool, the feel of the mist hitting the back of my neck, and the very reality that I was standing here holding Stella, everyone knowing she was mine, told me that this day—my life—couldn’t get any better.
I curled my arm around her waist, my fingers gently holding on to her hip. The scent of flowers and honey that came from her filled my head and nearly had me groaning, and popping wood.
“Smile,” Stella’s mom said and I did just that.
But me smiling had nothing to do with the camera, and everything to do with the girl by my side.
I loved her more than anything else.
I’d gotten a full scholarship for football to the University of Sweetwater. The same college Stella was going to. But the truth was, I would’ve said fuck the scholarship and gone wherever she did. I would’ve followed her to the end of the world if it meant we could be together.
But as luck would have it, as fate would have it, we were in this together, our lives intertwined, our youth spent connected with one another. It sounded like such a cliché, maybe even poetic bullshit. But it was the Goddamn truth.
Although it certainly wasn’t anything I’d ever thought I’d think about, I was realizing each and every day that Stella brought out these parts of me, areas that I’d never even known existed.
And I fucking loved it.
As we stood there and took pictures, all I wanted to do was freeze time, to stay in this moment with her forever.
I turned and looked down at her, wisps of her hair gently blowing against her temples as the breeze picked up, her delicate braid starting at the crown of her head and falling down, having my fingers itch to touch them, to run those strands between my forefinger and thumb.
“Hey,” I said softly, and when she looked at me I felt my heart stop. “I love you,” I said only loud enough for her to hear. The smile she gave me lit up my entire world.
“I love you, too.”
Some would say we were young, maybe thought it wouldn’t last. But there was nothing I was more excited to do then to prove all those assholes wrong.
* * *
We’d found ourselves at the field house, mainly to get away from the crowd, but also to be alone. Our parents had left, giving us time to “reminisce with our friends” as they’d put it.
But all we wanted to do was be with each other.
“I feel like I’m suffocating,” Cannon said as he pulled at the collar of his graduation gown.
I rolled my eyes and started chuckling. “This is like the least suffocating piece of clothing out there. It’s basically a bedsheet.”
He winked at me before taking it off and setting it beside him on the bleachers.
The fact we were going to the same school, that I was staying in a dorm and he was renting a house with a few of his football buddies that had also gotten into Sweetwater seemed almost too good to be true. And although he’d asked about me living with them, the truth was, I knew having our own space was good in the beginning, especially while we navigated this new chapter in our lives.
He reached out and took my hand in his, and I didn’t stop myself from smiling. “Are you afraid of the future?” I found myself asking him after a prolonged moment of silence. He didn’t answer for long moments, but then looked at me and smiled.
I nodded and returned the smile.
“As long as I have you by my side, that’s all I need.” He leaned in and kissed the top of my head. “I am so in love with you, Stella. So in love with you,” he said softer the second time.
“I love you, too.” I moved closer to him and rested my head on his shoulder, both of us staring at the field. We could hear people from graduation in the distance, the sound of cars honking, of students shouting. There was so much going on, but in this moment, it felt like it was just Cannon and me, like we were in our own little world and nothing else mattered.
And I knew that it didn’t. I knew that as long as I had this boy by my side, and his love, everything would be just fine.